The Ulysses Project – Part 2

Why bother?

I mentioned in the Part 1 post that I’ve never processed a fleece by hand so it’s a fair question to ask why would I start now after the industrial revolution successfully removed this kind of drudgery from women’s lives. There are piles and piles of beautiful yarns available for easy purchase in my little town, let alone the bounty of the internet. So why bother making it.

One reason is that I have an interest in history. Lanark was once a major center for textile production in Ontario, much of it wool. In fact, the last working mill here, the Glenayr Kitten Mill closed in 1997 – which really wasn’t that long ago. The wool mill in the big living history museum near here is (for me) a fascinating place and I wanted to try my hand at it. And finally, I have a lingering, probably highly romanticized fascination with ‘traditional women’s skills’. By this I mean household production tasks which traditionally fell to women such as yarn and cloth production, candle making, beer and cider making and food storage and preservation. I do all of this except the candle making – I have to draw the line somewhere.

This is where the interest began and is still the root of why I’ve put effort into this but over time it has morphed into something more. Last October, Instagram exploded with #slowfashionoctober where everyone who had anything to do with fibre was talking about how and why they were pushing back against fast fashion. This really struck a chord with me (and the rest of the world considering the 1.25 million hits returned by Google) and gave me an opportunity to really think about not just why I was knitting, but why I was making yarn.

Clothing with Terroir

I realized that I wanted to create garments that had a sense of ‘terroir‘. Much like a wine or cheese has a taste of where it was produced, I wanted my clothing to have that same feeling. Subconsciously, I have been moving in this direction for a while. All the fleece I have – wool, alpaca, and llama was raised on farms very close to me. There is mohair and angora around here too, but I don’t have any (yet).

Ulysses lived 20 km from me. The mill which did the processing is 26 km away. Short of raising sheep in my backyard (which local bylaw says I’m not allowed to do), you can’t get much more local than that.

The Ulysses Project – Part 1

Part 1 – Background

(This is part 1 in what will become a series of related posts)

Two and a half years ago, I was at a small fibre festival in McDonalds Corners in rural Lanark County (yeah, I know most of Lanark is rural, but this place is really in the woods) where I bought 500g of washed Blue Faced Leicester fleece. Oh, it was lovely and soft, but it was short – too short for the mill which was why this shepherd was selling it for hand processing. Full disclosure – I’ve never processed a fleece by hand.

No problem, I thought. People have been hand carding and combing wool for far longer than the process has been mechanized. I can take care of this. Besides, it’s only 500g. Not like it’s the entire fleece.

I’ll pause here while you have a good laugh.

I don’t have a drum carder. I do own a set of hand carders but I’m not handy with them. I understand the basic premise of what I’m supposed to do, and perhaps 10 minutes with someone who really knows how to use them could change my opinion of them. But I’m not there. I find them awkward and I hated using them. So the fleece sat in it’s bag. Every so often, while stash diving I’d see it and open it up. It really is lovely stuff but I was never going to get it all carded.

Two years later, the fleece was still in its bag and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. Then I heard about a new fibre mill which was opening locally! I contacted them and – Hallelujah – they could take the fleece and process it.

I drove over on the appointed day and handed over the bag. Remember me saying it was short – yeah, they looked at it and weren’t sure they could do it. Disappointment must have showed on my face because the owner said to leave it with him, that maybe he could blend it with a minimal amount of something else, just to get it through the machines. That is exactly what ended up happening. The BFL was blended with 10% nameless wool as a carrier medium to get it through the machines.

So why is this called the Ulysses Project? Well, Ulysses is the hero of The Odyssey which took place over 10 years. There were lots of twists and turns and side adventures in the story of his return home from the Trojan War. Ulysses was also the name of the ram who provided the fleece. Since this particular project has been going for more than two years and also has some twists and side adventures, I thought the name was fitting.